Instructables
Picture of Poor Man's Fret Job
In this instructable I will attempt to give a down and dirty process for re-fretting a guitar and filling in the gouges on the fret board.

DISCLAIMER: I take no responsibility for damage to your instrument. The name of the game here is 'carefully' and 'gently.' Please take these steps slowly and deliberately. Make sure to read through the whole thing before starting this project.

I was pleased with the outcome even on my first try.... this was my second. I decided to do this because I capo so much that my frets themselves became dented. I also had terrible gouges in the fretboard itself from years of playing. These fretboard gouges do not affect the playability of the guitar, they are just ugly. My first refretting attempt was on a guitar that was already unplayable, so if I messed it up it didn't matter. Happily, it worked fine and I now have an old friend back!

You can obtain fret wire in many different sizes and radius online or at your local guitar repair shop. I made the switch to stainless steel fret wire instead of nickle. Stainless steel is much harder and less likely to wear down and get dents. I used this website. http://www.warmoth.com/supplies/supplies.cfm?fuseaction=fretwire Good luck.
 
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sbandyk8 months ago

This part is pretty scary. You were obviously very careful here.. because your guitar wasn't broken in the next step. I wouldn't recommend that other people take this chance though.

A little bit of the fretboard just past the edge of the body will be supported by the tenon part of the neck joint. The rest is only supported by the rather flimsy top of the guitar. Just the thought of hammering frets into this section makes me edgy.

Alternate idea..

In the past, I've made my own Fret press caul and it worked very well. I used a scrap piece of recycled porch decking material [mostly plastic]. I sanded a radius into the face of the material* and used a clamp to push the caul into the fret.. and the fret in turn into the neck.

  1. reach into sound hole to look for bracing.
  2. cut a block of wood or similar material to place inside the sound hole under the unsupported portion of the fretboard. As needed, route a channel[s] into block to clear any bracing or the like.
  3. place your prepared frets into the slots.. you can do more than one at a time.
  4. insert the block from #2 under the fretboard [inside guitar].
  5. rest the caul on top of the frets and hold in place with a C-clamp or the like
  6. Carefully apply pressure until the caul presses the frets into the slots.

Consider.. the more frets you do at once, the more pressure required and the more likely you are to crush the soundboard [top of the guitar body]. Work slow.. don't get greedy by trying to press in tight fret wire all at once.

The caul also works well for other parts of the neck.. especially for bolt-on necks. You always want to have plenty of support on the neck though so make another caul to cup the back of the neck. Once you have the top and bottom cauls.. you can use a clamp to press the frets in.. or you can sometimes even get away with using a press instead [a beefy drill press will even work].

* there are lots of ways to put a radius into the face of your caul. I suggest first roughly removing material with a sander or rasp. Then, place coarse sand paper over the fret board and use the radius of the un-fretted fretboard to shape the face of the caul to the same radius [rub the caul on the paper/fretboard.. you're using the fretboard as a sanding block essentially].

eyouel5 months ago
Nice one man
potatojesus (author)  eyouel4 months ago

thanks. the frets are still working really great years after I shared this.

sbandyk8 months ago

I like the final affect of your patch. Replacing the gouges with the filler leaves the same pattern but it's got a burned [dirty] look to it.. which is sort of cool.

For other readers.. there's no requirement to fill worn spots in the fretboard unless they're under the fret wire. They're the result of someone with long finger nails playing the guitar for years. It's a lot of work and you want to be careful when sanding that you don't change the curve of the fretboard or it's trueness end to end.

I've got a '64 Gibson estate sale find with this problem.. It's tempting to go this route but I'll probably keep the wear and just give it a quick sand with a radiuses block to make sure it's true.

BTW.. the other way to repair fretboard damage is to chisel or route out the damaged portion and then glue in a replacement piece of wood. Again.. lots of work.. and delicate. If you try this.. be careful. Of course.. one last thing you can do to fix damage on a fretboard.. convince yourself what it really needs is Mother of Pearl* block inlays. :-)

*for different reasons, MoP is also dangerous stuff to work with. Instead of chemically irritant sawdust like rosewood, you'll get a highly abrasive dust. Wear a good mask if you work with it.

sbandyk sbandyk8 months ago

P.S. The recommendation to oil the board is a good one. You should clean and oil non-sealed fretboards when you change your strings too. Wood has natural oils in it.. rosewood in particular is rather oily. Replacing that oil as it wears and degrades will protect the wood from shrinking, cracking, or chipping.

Another popular choice for fretboards is Lemon Oil.. which you can buy in applicators for guitars [Dunlop sells it for about 5 bucks for 4 oz.] or in the cleaning product isle [used on furniture as well]. Buying it from Johnson and Johnson instead of Dunlop has the advantage of it costing about 1/10th as much per volume.

One nice thing about lemon oil.. it smells like lemon oil. :-)

sbandyk8 months ago

..a tip I picked up somewhere..

Take a scrap piece of 2x4 and drill a grid of holes an inch deep into a wide face of the board. Label the holes 1, 2, 3.. to the number of frets you have.

As you cut your frets to length, place them in the corresponding hole of your scrap block to keep them straight from each other.

sbandyk8 months ago

I'd avoid using anything as a "caulking" under the fret edges. If they don't seat flush to the fretboard, it's because the fret slots aren't deep enough.. because there's debris in the slots, or because the frets aren't seated fully.

If you think you'll have issues with fret depth, and it's more likely when re-fretting a bound fretboard.. especially when you've leveled [sanded] the fretboard.. you can make a dummy fret to test depth.

Take one length of fret wire, bent to the radius of your fretboard [not over-radiused like your frets should be]. Take your dremel and carefully grind off the barbs that protrude from the fret tang [the back of the fret that goes into the slot]. What you want is a fret where the tang is flat so you can insert it and remove it from the fret slots with little pressure and no damage to the board.

Drop that in all the slots before you start fretting and confirm that the top of the fret sits flat against the fretboard.

Note.. some fret wire has a twist pressed into the tang to make it wider.. do your best to level the tang side until you can push it end and remove it from slots easily. You can try flattening this with pliers or press but be careful to avoid twisting the fret wire or lengthening the depth of the tang.

sbandyk8 months ago

yea.. this is probably not a best idea. It's way too easy to get carried away with the Dremel.

A better way to get a consistent file on the fret edges is to run a block of wood through your table saw with the blade set to a 30 degree angle. Better yet high-density polymer [HDPE] if you have a block of that.. I use an old drilled block of HDPE which formerly held dowels for test tube storage.

What you'll get, hopefully, is a block with a diagonal cut into one one side that doesn't remove any material.. you're slicing into it, not lopping the edge off or bisecting it. Set the depth to [spoiler alert] about half the width of a flat file.

Now.. grab a fine-pattern flat file and slide it into the slot. What you should have now is a block with half of a file sticking out the bottom.. 30 degrees off of perpendicular to the face of the block.

Set the block on the frets so the file extends down and away from the edge of the fretboard and run it down the fret ends until they're all filed to a uniform and appropriate length.

Tips..

  1. for a set-neck like the acoustic here.. set the file deep into the block so you can run it over the frets that sit on top of the body. I do this for bolt on electrics and I leave the file about half buried in the block so it's easier to remove/replace.
  2. Lop off the end of the file if it's made with a handle.. if you want to. You'll be less likely to damage the guitar if there isn't a pointy metal handle sticking out one edge. Remember though, tools like files are made of tool steel.. hard to cut. "cut" really means "grind off" or "grind through" in this case.
  3. In my case, my thin kerf table saw blade just happens to be thick enough to slide the file in and out of the slot but thin enough grab my file well. you may need to shim or open the slot as required by your saw and your file.
I've known people who have used coffee grinds in place of the wood shavings... smells nice!

Alternatively, you could use any other type of hardwood, especially the coloured ones [ i like purple heart] or use stone instead of wood, just to add colour. Don't do that to an instrument that you LOVE, obviously, I've done it to my "beater" guitars and it's worked out fine!
Ibanezfoo3 years ago
You can get this wood at any Rockler or Woodcraft store or their websites...
job well done, i plan on doing this soon. ordered some fretwire from stewmac.
hope to take my time~
nice post~
Im trying to make my guitar fretless. Should I fill the fret slots with some thing or just let it fly?
I know this is roughly two years late :p
But in regards to making a fretless guitar. The fret slots MUST be filled, or the neck will upbow severely.
I have done this, on a guitar and a bass, and I recommend using vynil sheeting. This was recommended to me by Los Angeles luthier John Carruthers.
I also used transparent self-adhesive mylar (also recommended by carruthers) to cover the fretboard surface. It results in a slick Jaco-like playing surface without the expense and effort of actually applying boat-deck lacquer to the fretboard :)
potatojesus (author)  mayan guitarist5 years ago
That's something I wouldn't really profess to know about... but you could try the rosewood dust technique in this instructable and then sand properly. But I really don't know.
Okay ill try that. Its not that nice of a neck so i dont care if it dosent work, but thanks anyway.
when you make a fretless guitar you'll need an ebony fretboard its the only wood that will work
JArmandB4 years ago
Instead of potentially damaging the binding or possibly starting a fire (the plastic used for binding is especially flammable), use your end nippers to cut the frets flush with the fingerboard.  Apply downward pressure as you cut so you don't lift the fret end.  Then use small needle files to dress the fret ends.  This is no place for power tools.  Otherwise, up to now, you are spot on.
potatojesus (author)  JArmandB4 years ago
You are certainly correct. The Dremmel was a form of laziness on my part. However, by my third guitar refretting project, I had a slow and controlled enough hand that it came out very nice. It was a matter of touch. I do need to add the proper files to my tool collection though. Thanks for your comment!!!
Great instructable just what i was looking for, specialty tools are very expensive and when you ask luthiers how to do this you never get any info. Just a snide "You're not capable" kind of attitude. I'm gonna use this on a junker neck i did a partial scallop on, thanks man
potatojesus (author)  curt-fullmer4 years ago
That's exactly what I did. I practiced on two junkers before I did my better guitars. Good luck and go slowly & carefully.
instead of this, i used the air compression can(as u said) and then some wood polish and it came out beautiful...... i would post pictures but i dont have a camera : (
potatojesus (author)  m4573rk3yb04rd5 years ago
Yeah, cool. I never thought of compressed air. Great idea!
This is a great Instructable, well planned and detailed. I've rebuilt two electric guitars and a bass, but never tried an acoustic - I'm far more careful with my 1969 Giannini model 2/A (before they changed their glue and pumped out inferior guitars) but may have to fill minor gouges on the neck and headstock. I'm not interested in selling, and all repair jobs I've seen instructions for have flashy re-coloration and recreation techniques. It's nice to see a straight job to fix a guitar for the sake of the instrument, not sales value. Have you ever worked on repairing body gouges (skin too thin to open with a blade) or varnish flaking?
potatojesus (author)  valhallas_end5 years ago
Thanks for the comment. Yes, this is certainly not for resale of the instrument! But as I mentioned in the instructable, the gouge filler in person is far less noticeable. My camera just picked up the filler as much darker for some reason. Also, the shallower the gouge, the better the final filled spot will blend. Both the instruments I've worked on so far have sentimental value to me so I would never fix 'em up and sell 'em! The one in this instructable is a 'Concorde.' This is a guitar that nobody has ever heard of. But it was a mid-70's middle of the road Japanese made guitar that my uncle bought for my grandfather. The workmanship on this instrument is surprisingly well done. The edge purfing and sole hole purfing is real abalone inlay. I inherited this instrument when my grandfather passed. The frets and fret board was already in bad shape from years of playing. I've always used it as a back up guitar. I'm glad I brought it back to life! As for your other question, no I haven't worked on anything like that. I have finished a guitar before... but never refinished. I worked with lacquer... which is a giant pain to work with. My job was less than stellar. I've also finished a guitar with gun stock oil. This stuff is really easy to work with and works great. You don't get a glass finish, but instead you get a rubbed oil finish... it's really beautiful. Gun Stock oil will rub in like oil but the harden... unlike a mineral oil or something. But maybe you can lightly sand the flaking or thin areas and use a rubbing oil (gun stock oil works well). This won't fix it visiually, but it should help protect the wood. You might need to repeat this once in a while.
Thanks potato. I may try the gun oil idea (I'm a rifle target shooter and have litres of the stuff lying around) - it may actually match the varnish look fairly well too, since the crackling around the flaked area has darkened nearly to the color of the binding wood, and these are small enough spots to be nearly unnoticeable except under close inspection. I've always wanted to try my hand at constructing an acoustic from the ground up, but can't tolerate most varnishes (slightly allergic to many of the resin compounds), so oil may be a great alternative. Do you periodically need to reapply the oil to keep a good finish, or is it more of a once-over with maintenance?
Valhallas- It may be wise to post such a question at a site such as Harmony-Central's forums, they're much wiser to working with vintage varnishes than most here. That being said, if it's flaking, I think it's lacquer, which, as you know, is alcohol based. You could test swab alcohol somewhere, say, under a tuner to check for softening. While potato said he has had poor luck with lacquer, I find it to be the 2nd most forgiving, next to shellac. Nitrocellulose lacquer dissolves into the lacquer under it, making it very easy to blend and fix blemishes (unlike polyurethane and other catalyzed finishes). That being said, the gun oil is a great idea for bare wood. I'm currently using tung oil to finish off an acoustic I'm building for a buddy of mine. Danish oil works alright as well. Cheers.
Thanks guitar. I actually took the Giannini to the local shop where it was originally bought (it's been passed down through my family), and he actually mentioned nitro as a good fixative. My only problem is I'd have to have it worked in a shop - I worked with nitro to finish a table a few years ago and had a horrible asthmatic reaction to the vapors, even with an excellent filter mask. I have access to a better workshop now though and may try it out sometime. Thanks for the tip, and btw I like your metal pickguard - I'm building a new electric and might try it depending on my body color choice.
potatojesus (author)  valhallas_end5 years ago
gun stock oil... not gun barrel oil... just to be sure. I use tru-oil.

http://mickiesplace.com/store/product/9285/Birchwood-Casey--Tru-Oil-3oz/

I believe you might need to reapply every few years. But I have a guitar I finished with it a few years ago and it still looks good. make sure you add a few coats of the stuff, steel wooling in between coats, to get a nice lustery finish! good luck.
mrjibbs5 years ago
Destruction is the mother of invention/no guitar should ever see a landfill ! I had a les paul which an insane brother of mine smashed in a fit of rage. Insane brother had a gretsch which he later gave the same treatment. Being that I am left handed I have ben the DR Freakenstein of amature luthier world since dy one. When I finish my latest endevour I hope to unveil.....Gretsch Paul. Lefty Les Paul Body with Gretsch neck al chet atkins. Hopefuly this will be more than the sum of its parts, hopefully it would make les and chet chuckle at least. Hopefully it will enable me to take over the World.........back to reality. Hopefully it'll play, lol. I love this topic and this site , it RAWKS Just thought I would share.
Same boat here, being left handed, I've been cutting nuts, modifying bodies, and other basic luthier work from the get-go. The only thing that might cause problems with that design is that your standard Gretsch has a dovetail joint with a larger neck base, and the Gibby is simply smaller all around. Perhaps you could cut a piece to compensate and glue it to the 'bottom' (by which I mean back) of the neck's heel. Definitely make an instructable for whatever ingenious thing you concoct!
mrjibbs5 years ago
Hey , the first time you did a refretting job did you have that funny feeling in the pit of your stomach like I did ? Just wondering...... MLM
potatojesus (author)  mrjibbs5 years ago
Yes, I did. But the first guitar I did was already unplayable. It was just collecting dust in my basement. So if I messed it up, it wouldn't have been any worse off. But I did have that sinking feeling simply because this was my first real guitar I owned. It was my baby. Her name is Belladonna. So as you can guess it was like operating on a sick child. After the 'surgery' everything worked out well. The fret work came out good, and the best part, the instrument is playable again! I have my old friend back!
mrjibbs5 years ago
sweet Instructable many folks use jewelers or similar type files for fret dressing. Also, a draftsmans erasing shield or similar piece of thin sheet metal with a fret sized slot will allow dressing re-dressing minus the oops factor, longer slots can be bent around edge of fretboard to protect when endfiling and shaping. Being the worry wart I am , I made a wood press which matched my fretboard radius to press in my fret wire. And on an opposite note, I think the divots add character and notice fender and gibson charge extra for that nowadays. LOL Refretting yourself makes the difference between a cost effective instrument, and an unplayable museum piece....... MLM
potatojesus (author)  mrjibbs5 years ago
Yes, I totally agree about the instrument v. museum piece. I am more concerned about the sounds that my guitar makes than the 'visual ooh, aah' factor. That said, reducing minor mistakes are still a good thing. Thanks for your comments.
Very nicely done Instructable, I'll have to use this a few years down the road when the buzzes start to appear. It might not be a bad idea to use one or two layers of masking tape on the binding when grinding the fret ends flush. As aggressive as the cutoff wheel is, it might still scratch the binding, but at least it would give you a little warning.
potatojesus (author)  Jonny Katana5 years ago
Fantastic Idea. Thanks. I have another guitar I'm about to start his week. I will try the masking tape.
Awesome, man. Let me know if it helps.
potatojesus (author)  Jonny Katana5 years ago
I tied the tape. I used Gaffer's tape which is a thick, low tack, cloth tape. It seemed to get in the way more than it helped. I used this thicker tape for more protection. As I was grinding the frets flush to the binding, the tape would just get gummed up. Next time I do this, I will try a masking tape or painters tape because I think your suggestion could be a big help.
littletom345 years ago
Great 'ible! For filling the gouge holes, you might try a mixture of the rosewood sawdust and a white wood glue for a better color match. I've used this trick on a couple of woodworking projects to fill in small holes. Just mix the sawdust with the glue to make a paste, moosh it into the hole, let it dry and sand it smooth.
That one is a tricky one to do if you get the mixture wrong; too much glue and it'll become more pale (taken in effect that it stays white) or if you put too much wooddust it'll become too thick a paste, plus it might not adhere well to the throat of the guitar. It's trial and error the first four times :) But the super glue's blacking on the guitar makes it look more vintage too which sometimes fits better to the specific geddar (strung instrument)
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